Coping Saves Lives: Men Who Finds Ways To Manage Stress Live Longer

BOSTON — We can’t always control what happens in life, but people are often capable of controlling how they respond. Coping with unexpected, stressful events isn’t easy, but new research suggests that the key to coping with stress isn’t how well you cope — it’s how much effort you put into coping. More specifically, scientists at Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine report that among older men, the overall effort put into coping is generally more important to a person’s longevity than their actual coping strategies.

Coping are cognitive and behavioral strategies aimed at managing stressors that people believe exceed their ability and resources to respond to effectively. They’re intrinsically linked to personal stress levels. Simply put, coping involves doing things or thinking about things in an effort to put a stressful situation out of your mind.

Too much stress, meanwhile, has been linked to a higher risk of death. Despite this clear connection, researchers say coping has been woefully understudied when it comes to the long-term health consequences of how we manage stressors.

“How mucholder men did in response to stressors mattered more for their survival than what they did. Our finding held up even after we considered individual differences in demographics, marital status, major health conditions, and lifestyle factors at study baseline,” says senior and corresponding author Lewina Lee, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder at the VA Boston Healthcare System and associate professor of psychiatry at the school, in a media release. “Studying coping is important because this is an aspect of the stress-health equation that is within our control yet it is very much overlooked.”

Stressed man at work, suffering from headache at office

Study authors tracked 743 men who were part of the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study. Between 1993 and 2002, each man completed a stress and coping assessment that included naming the most stressful thing that had happened to them over the prior month, rating how stressful the problem was for them, and describing how much they used specific strategies to deal with the stressor. After that, researchers analyzed all the collected data in order to determine the extent by which the stressfulness of their problems, the specific types of coping strategies they used, and the overall effort put into coping ultimately related to their risk of death over the 27-year period.

The research team adds earlier studies focusing on psychological aging suggest people tend to accumulate tremendous expertise in coping with stressors across a lifetime. By the time a person reaches old age, they can usually use fewer coping strategies than younger adults to achieve the same level of stress-relieving success in managing difficult situations.

“Our findings suggest that if an older adult deviates from this pattern by using a lot of energy to deal with stressors, it may be a sign that they are struggling and do not have what they need to manage the problem at hand,” adds first study author Victoria Marino, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the school.

“These findings behoove us to pay more attention to how the aging process may pose challenges to individuals and to signs that older people may need resources to help preserve their health, sense of independence, and well-being,” Lee concludes.

The study is published in the

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